It was our eighth birthday last week. A bit of a milestone really as most businesses fail after the first three years and few make it to six, and here we are eight years later.
I’m not used to reflecting much, a habit I’ve rather gotten out of over the years as I prefer to deal with what is happening now and in the future. But as a lecturer it was something I did on a daily basis – how did that lecture go? Could I have expressed that idea better? How can I help a particular student to understand and improve their work etc.
But I have looked back over where we started and what we’ve achieved. I say ‘we’ because although this is my business it is very much a team operation. (The current Team are doing an amazing job in really difficult circumstances too). I certainly couldn’t do all this by myself now. The shop opened in May 2012 with literally about a dozen rolls of fabrics. I had reps coming to see me at home because we were frantically painting the shop and building furniture getting ready for the first workshop, which if I remember correctly was ‘How to make Bunting.’
We’ve come a long way since then. I’ve had some lovely people helping me out in the shop over the years and they have all added their own special ingredient to the Sew Me Something flavour. Some have stayed with me for years and to them I am immensely grateful. They have stuck by my vision for what we were all about and helped me ride through the ups and down of running a business. And there have been some downs as well as ups. In our first couple of years we won several awards, local business ones and sewing industry ones too. Then nearly three years ago Charlie had a major accident and it made me really step up to the plate with how I was actually running the business. I wish it really was all about sewing your own clothes and designing new patterns. But as any other business owner knows all too well the other stuff tales priority most of the time; accounts, marketing VAT, employment issues the list could go on and I had to conscientiously make the decision to take the business up a notch in order to keep us all afloat. Which was what I did.
I let go of the shop when the lease had run its course and we moved to the new Studio. As we were in the throes of actually moving I had my first show in the Sewing Quarter which was amazing. It brought us to a whole new audience. More people were able to join us for workshops where they could learn and enjoy the whole experience of sewing and making your own clothes that actually fit.
Through all of this we have stuck to our core value of helping as many people as we can to learn and improve their sewing skills in a friendly, inclusive and supportive way. This is fundamentally why Sew Me Something exists. Apart from the fact I am probably unemployable now, I really don’t think I could go back to having a boss!
Helping people is at the heart of what we do and why we do it. So although the idea for The Sewing Studio has been bubbling away at the back of my mind for over two years, now was the opportune moment to actually create it. Firstly, I actually had a bit more time on my hands with no teaching and no shows. You would be amazed at how long it physically takes to create all the content videos, and most of it I can do in one take! We have spent hours and hours filming and then editing, (mainly Charlie I have to say), to get the tutorials and courses absolutely right. I have had to raise my technical game hugely, even my son is impressed with my sorting out the website for the Sewing Studio. No web builder here I’m afraid.
Secondly, and most importantly, I felt this was the best way we could help you. If you can’t come to the Studio then let us come to you in your own home. You can join in with the In-depth Courses, have a go at the Projects, learn from the Tutorials and Technical Library and hang out with other sewing nerds enthusiasts in our Community.
I realise we are just starting out on this new road. Online is the way forward for us and so many others now and for the foreseeable future. There is so much I want to add in terms of content and courses, new patterns and – well just so much it makes my brain ache to think about it sometimes. I really want to find out from you what you’d like to see in the Sewing Studio too. So do have a look at The Sewing Studio and let me know
I realise it’s not perfect, but then done is way better than perfect in my book.
We are living through some very strange times indeed, shuttered in at home only venturing out early morning or after dusk just to avoid other human beings. It feels a little like I’m living in one of the dystopian post apocalyptic books I like to lose myself in. Only this is real and it is having quite an impact on a rather lot of people.
The first week of Lockdown sent me into a bit of a tailspin, I won’t lie. When I realised we were going to have to postpone all of our workshops and retreats and that the upcoming shows we had planned on attending were not going ahead, I had a brief but rather intense meltdown sitting in my garden gazing at the chickens. I wondered if I was going to be able to afford to buy chicken food, or what I was going to feed the chickens if I couldn’t, could I even bring myself to dispatch them if this really was the end of the world and could I use the chickens to feed my children? But I decided that there is not a lot of meat on an egg-laying chicken!
Looking back now that seems a bit ridiculous and rather melodramatic, and after I had given myself a rather good talking to, more rational thinking resumed. I am, by nature, not really a panicker so the last few weeks have been more about “Right!” *stands hands on hips in the middle of the kitchen.* “This shit thing has happened – how are we going to deal with it?!”
Make videos – was how we dealt with it in the first instance.
The first show we were due to attend that had been cancelled was the Sewing for Pleasure Show at the NEC. So I decided that if we couldn’t be at the show we could do a Live Video for each of the days we should have been at the show. It was a bit of an experiment as I wasn’t really sure if it would work and we would get many views, or even if it was what our lovely customers wanted to see. However, we quickly realised that if we were not able to go out to see our customers and if they were not able to come to see us in the studio the only way to connect with you/them was by video. So we popped it up on our YouTube channel and have been recording Live twice a week since then. This has been a team effort. I am lucky enough to be married to a videographer and my son is blessed with the inherent tech knowledge only the young were born with and I couldn’t have done this without them.
Just before Easter I was tagged into a Facebook post, sorry I can’t remember by whom, from the Warwickshire Scrubbers and it got Charlie and I thinking. We have several friends working in the NHS and other care professions and after asking them if this really was a thing, I quickly realised it very much was a thing and that yes I could make scrubs but, at Charlie’s suggestion, would I not be better making a pattern that included what my friends were looking for in a set of scrubs to help others make more scrubs. I freely admit the pattern is not perfect. I bashed it out over a weekend and would happily go back and alter things. But it’s there, and it exists to help people make scrubs for their local community, and for that I am a little bit proud. I have even been sent a letter from a local MP thanking me for my help during the crisis. Being a slightly left leaning, tax paying egalitarian this has left me with mixed emotions as you can imagine.
It was a team effort and we also made a little video on how to make a set of scrubs that has now been watched by tens of thousands of people across the globe! I never imagined it would take off as it did. We have had thousands of orders for the pattern and it took us a good few of weeks working flat out and roping in the SMS team and all my family members to get those orders sent out. I am so grateful for the patience of everyone who placed orders and were chomping at the bit to get going with their sewing. We had no idea so many people would want to use the pattern or indeed want to help.
Designing, printing, packing and sending out the scrubs pattern really took up the first few weeks of lockdown. We did it all ‘not for profit’ and just about covered our costs, but it gave us all something to focus our thoughts and energy on and for that I am truly grateful.
Once the initial shock of what had happened had receded and we had responded to the immediate crisis of the lack of PPE and created the Scrubs pattern, we quickly came to a level of normality in our new working lives. We are incredibly fortunate to have the studio in a rural location away from the town centre which has allowed us more freedom than we would have had before at the shop.
Normally I would be teaching and running workshops over the weekends or be exhibiting at a show away from home for several days. But without this level of activity I have been able to step back and give myself some headspace. I have managed to have weekends away from the studio and work and have been able to focus my energies into re-juvinating our garden. It got totally flattened six years ago when Charlie and I got married and we covered it entirely with a marquee to hold our wedding reception and it hasn’t really recovered since. Now with weekends at home we have been able to lavish our care and attention upon it. While working in the garden our minds have been free to roam and be creative in our ponderings about how the business is going to continue to move onwards.
A couple of weeks ago a long term project finally came to fruition and we launched the online Sewing Studio. The extra time both Charlie and I have had has meant we could focus our efforts and headspace into creating the content for the Sewing Studio Subscription Club. This is something I have been dreaming about creating for a couple of years now. Without us being able to teach workshops for the foreseeable future we needed to think of other ways to reach out to our customers to support them in their sewing and online, it appears, is the way forward. Whether I like being in front of a camera or not. So with an ever increasing range of video tutorials, PDF patterns, in-depth courses and pattern adaptations we hope to be able to help more people now with their sewing.
Looking back over the last 8 weeks or so of lockdown, (to be honest I have forgotten which week we are on now!) has forced me to completely rethink my working life. I am fully aware that a lot of people have been knocked sideways by the whole Covid 19 nightmare and many have lost friends and loved ones. Levels of anxiety and depression have risen hugely and taken their toll on the Nation’s mental health. Which is why I do feel rather guilty when I admit to rather enjoying elements of Lockdown.
Time is a gift so precious, and one we have been given in spades during this time of uncertainty. BC – Before Covid I was forever bemoaning my lack of it. I was “so busy all the time” rarely taking time off and constantly on the hamster wheel of life running a business, trying to be creative, looking after my family etc. Now I have had TIME to just BE.
I have sat in the garden with a cup of coffee doing absolutely nothing and not feeling guilty that I should be doing something else or be somewhere else. I have had time to plan and create a garden, a work in progress admittedly, but progress nonetheless. I have had time to step away and readjust my priorities. Both my kids are at home, much to their disappointment. Seamus has had to return from Uni in Cornwall and is desperately missing his new found independence. Orla’s summer has been totally cancelled. No A levels, no prom, no holiday with her friends and is facing an uncertain future regarding attending Uni in September at all. But I’m very selfishly pleased, because never again will I get to spend this much time with the fledgeling young adults that are my babies. Let’s face it would you hangout with your parents drinking gin and lemon playing Scrabble of an evening given the choice? Of course not neither would I, but the conversations and laughter that we’ve all shared is something I will treasure to the end of my days.
So although this is a terrible situation and something I sincerely hope ends soon, I am looking at it in a positive light. I am so very fortunate to have my husband and family with me and that my extended family are all safe and well but my heart goes out to those who are not.
Lockdown has given me all manner of positive things, not least of all hope for the future. The world over the last few weeks has changed irrevocably and that can be seen as a positive thing. Our values have changed, we have made do with less, after home educating, teachers will be given the respect they are due, (hopefully). There are things I miss like popping into town for a coffee and seeing my friends, we do that via Zoom at the moment, so it is still happening but in a different way. And therein lies the crux – life will go on just in a different way. We have adapted to new surroundings and situations and that has kept us going for millennia.
Adapting and changing our perspectives are what enables us to keep going onwards in a generally forward motion. And that is what I shall be doing to keep Sew Me Something moving forward. I’m not sure quite in what direction yet but we are taking each day at a time planning and readjusting as we go. We will be hosting workshops again in the future but they may be run in a slightly different way, who knows.
As long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other and counting our blessings the journey continues.
Like a lot of lucky people, you may well have received a sewing machine or even an overlocker for Christmas. Or perhaps you might have just treated yourself? But have you got it out of the box yet? And do you know what you’re going to make?
Sometimes it can be a bit daunting with a new bit of kit sitting in front of you and you’re not sure quite what to do with it. So here are 5 things to help:
Make friends with your machine
I would thoroughly recommend having a play with your new machine and just go through the instruction manual. It sounds terribly boring and something your mother would say but seriously just getting to know your machine and what it can do will set up on the right track. Even if you’ve been sewing for years and new machine, will always mean new stuff to learn. Work out what the settings are, where the tension controls are and most importantly how to change the needle! You will invariably go through a few.
Sew a Creative Reference library
The kids in our holiday or after-school clubs just adore playing around with all the stitches. And you can even create your own works of art with the different embroidery or zigzag stitches. They can make a great reference library when you go to work on a project too and maybe need something a little different to add a bit of detail, like I did on my red Viola Skirt.
Start with something simple
Again at the risk of sounding like your Mother, I’d recommend keeping it simple to start with. Working on a straightforward project from start to finish that’s quick and relatively easy to make will give you that instant sense of gratification and the ‘I can do this feeling’ you want to keep you going onto the next one. Even if it’s just a pincushion or a needle book. They don’t use up much fabric, are incredibly useful and will give you that sense of achievement you deserve for all your efforts.
Once you get to grips with your machine and you’ve made a couple of quick and easy projects it can be tempting to race into the next bigger one. But you’re not on the Great British Sewing Bee so you don’t have to worry about how long it’s going to take you. Just pace yourself and enjoy the process. I know plenty of people who really dislike the cutting out stage and want to rush through that and get on to the sewing. But each stage has its own merits and deserves your care and attention to enable you to get the best results you can. Trying planning out what and when you can manage and take your time.
Remember to finish it
This sounds obvious I know but I’m speaking from personal experience here. You’ve worked so hard on your sewing project, whether its a cushion, a bag or a piece of clothing and the temptation is to get to a point where you – only just have to. . . sew the hem, add the buttons on or whatever. GET IT FINISHED! Even if you don’t like it once you’ve made it. If it’s finished you can gift it, or even wear it or use it as you intended. But it won’t be sitting in your pile of UFP’s – unfinished projects, providing that mental block preventing you from moving on and starting something new.
We have these rather lovely washable paper zippy bag kits in stock and we thought we’d show you how to customise your bag kit. The grey and brown ones are just perfect for printing on. We have used the most simplest of printing with potatoes but you could use a stamp and an ink pad.
We used textile printing ink so you can set the image permanently by ironing it and its washable too, even though its paper.
Firstly select your potato and cut it in half, we used a sharp knife to create a simple design but if you have a Lino cutter you could try using this. Dab off the excess moisture with some kitchen roll and have a play with repeating designs.
Once you have a design that you are satisfied with draw around the template of your zippy bag onto the paper, ensuring you have a front, a back and a tag pattern piece too.
Remember the cut out corners of your bag pattern forms the bottom of the bag so work out where you would like to place your design. You will also have a seam allowance all the way round so bear that in mind too. We started printing from the middle out so the design was central.
You can print the tag with a smaller piece of potato, just remember the tag will be folded in half and have seam allowance along the long edges too
When the ink is dry, iron your design for a few minutes to heat set it (see your inks instructions) then make up your zippy bag as per the instructions. You can find our tutorial on how to make it here and you can purchase the plain grey and brown zippy bag kits here
Are you always the ‘organised one’ in your friendship circle or at work? Are you always sorting out every detail of your life, from booking dinners, sorting out travel arrangements? And do you find yourself secretly enjoying it?
Then we need you!
Sew Me Something is seeking a reliable Workshop/ Online Administrator. Someone who is motivated and highly organised to help coordinate and maintain the smooth running of everything behind the scenes.
If you find our Bianca a bit too on the slouchy side here are two hacks to help
Our Bianca Coat is a much loved wardrobe staple and is generally an oversized garment. It has a dropped shoulder to make it a generous fit over the shoulders.
However, we fully appreciate that some people are not overly comfortable with such an amount of ease in their clothes, so this is a really easy way to make your Bianca smaller across the shoulders so you don’t feel swamped.
Bianca Hack 1
Just a heads (or rather hands up) – you will need an extra pair of hands to help you with this as the alterations are taken out through the back, and unless you have octopus arms you may struggle on your own!
First try on your Bianca and have a friend lift it onto the shoulders where you’d feel comfortable with the shoulder seams sitting. This will create a fold of extra fabric through the centre back.
Have your friend pinch out the fold across the shoulder blades and and up into the collar. Pin it either with normal dressmaking pins or a safety pins.
Take off the Bianca and measure how much has been pleated out across the back and up into the collar and make a note of this. Take out the pins.
Turn your Bianca inside out and fold along the centre back. Measure in from the fold how much had been pleated out of the back and mark with chalk or a fabric marker. Take this all the way up into the collar too. This will be your stitching line.
Add on a 1.5cm seam allowance to the new stitching line all the way up the centre back and into the collar. Cut off the excess fabric. Cut all the way up the centre back and into the collar.
Unpick about 1”/3cm of overlocking on the neck seam each side of the new centre back.
With the wrong sides together overlock or machine sew down the collar section only.
With the right sides together overlock or machine sew down the coat section only.
Re- sew or overlock across the opening in the back neck seam. This will give you a centre back seam, but a much better fitting coat!
Bianca Hack 2
If you find the front waterfall too much for you, it’s easy to trim down the collar and front edge.
Try on your Bianca coat and decide how much you want to trim off the front waterfall. It may be that you don’t want the collar so high or not so much in the double breasted crossover, or even a combination of both. Fold under or mark how much you want to take off.
Turn the Bianca inside out and put one sleeve into the other. This will allow the coat to sit flatter folded in half.
Lay out the front of the Bianca so you can see the whole of the collar and front edge. Make sure both edges are level and matched up at the top and bottom corners.
Mark on where you would like the new edge to be with chalk or a marker pen. Use a ruler to get the lines straight as the collar and front edge are supposed to be at right angles.
Trim off the excess fabric. You can leave the edge raw or finish with overlocking or any other method you choose.
This will give a more pared down waterfall at the centre front.
I hope these hacks will help you to make the most of our wonderful Bianca coat for the cooler months to come.
So here’s the thing – running a business is bloody hard work. I literally eat, sleep, breathe what I do 24/7 like most other small business owners or solo entrepreneurs.
But I really, really enjoy it.
However, as I try and remind those I teach and who are concentrating so, so hard on their sewing – don’t forget to breathe!
It can be difficult to remember to come up for air as a business owner because you are so immersed in what you’re doing on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis that it is hard to remember to take that breath.
We can be very hard on ourselves too, about making time for a bit of self-care. As a mum of two small children I relished the rare chances I had to go and read a book on the beach by myself when the kids were with their dad. I felt extremely guilty about doing so, but that time away just for myself made me a better mummy. After all the inflight safety talk clearly states that you need to attach your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else.
So what I’m trying to say here is that as business owners we need to make time to have time to think and focus on what we are doing and why, where we are going and how are we going to get there. I personally find it really hard to think about the business when I’m in the business if you see what I mean.
This is why Claire Louise and I have decided that we are going to stay on for a few days after our October Retreat in Cornwall. We just need that bit of breathing space before returning to the hustle and bustle of what we do. The batteries need a bit of a recharge – we are not Duracell Bunnies. We all deserve a bit of self-care sometimes, it’s not selfish. It’s essential.
We would love it if you could come and join us. There will be home cooked meals each day so you don’t have to worry about cooking. You can take part in a bit of restorative meditation or relaxing yoga. Enjoy a massage or treatment to help you unwind or feel revitalised. Or just chill in the hot tub! The sewing machines will be there too so if you fancy bringing some sewing with you this is the perfect opportunity to make up new samples or even – (pauses for effect) make something for yourself.
And you’ll be with other creatives who, like you, run a business so some peer mentoring may take place or it can just be a safe space to bounce ideas around if you need a sounding board, secure in the knowledge that “what happens on retreat stays on retreat!”
What we are hoping is that we can provide you with a bit of breathing space in your life to enjoy a bit of light relief with others in a similar position to you. So you know that you’re not alone.
I believe pressing to be one of the most important parts of dressmaking. It is the act – or rather art – of pressing your garment throughout the sewing process, as well as the final press, that will set your clothes to the highest standard.
By paying close attention to the pressing of your garment at every stage of each seam, placket or collar, you set the stitches into the fabric, which allows them to perform their job of holding several pieces of fabric together much better.
Do not confuse pressing with ironing
Pressing requires you to use the iron as a precision tool, lifting and pressing it down rather than sweeping it across fabric, to flatten, shape or crease very specific areas on a garment. Pressing also requires a light touch. A heavy hand can result in over-pressing, which knocks the stuffing out of fabric!
There are several items of equipment that will really help with the pressing of your garments.
Iron Make sure it is good quality. It should be reasonably heavy to have some weight behind the press, as well as a function to vary and turn off the steam. You could invest in a tank iron, which holds a large reservoir of water that is converted to boosts of steam when needed. The power of the steam is greater than that of an ordinary iron (and doesn’t need refilling as often!)
Ironing Board Try and get an ironing board that comes up to waist height. It should also be well padded. If the padding is a bit scant or on the old side, you can always add more in the form of quilting wadding and make another cover to fit the board.
Pressing Cloth his is invaluable, as it separates the direct source of heat from your garment, giving it a little bit of protection and preventing shine and scorch marks. A damp pressing cloth can also impart moisture to help achieve perfectly flat seams. Your pressing cloth doesn’t need to be anything special (a piece of linen or calico is fine), but it should be washed first.
Tailor’s Ham This is a large egg – or ham – shaped bolster that features different curves to enable garments to be pressed on it without flattening out the three-dimensional form. Tailor’s hams are traditionally made from calico on one side and a wool fabric on the other. Usually they are stuffed with sawdust, as this absorbs the steam when pressing.
Sleeve Roll This does a similar job to a tailor’s ham, but it allows you to press smaller and more difficult areas, such as sleeves. Both items are easy to make yourself.
Sleeve Board This looks like a miniature ironing board. It makes pressing those small and awkward places a lot easier. Good-quality sleeve boards have the stand at the far end, which enables you to press along the whole length of a sleeve.
Clapper This is a piece of old tailoring equipment and makes pressing creases a lot easier. It is a flat piece of wood, usually with a handle that can be shaped to a point. When you are pressing a heavier fabric such as denim, steam the area and then press down firmly with the clapper over the area to press. The clapper pushes the steam down through the fabric and helps to set the press. Ideal for pressing hems on jeans.
Fingers & Hands Touch is one of the most important ways of assessing the amount of pressing required. Use your fingers to press out seams on delicate fabrics and your hands to hold seams flat after steaming.